24th Evacuation Hospital Patient
Images Of Bravery Award
IMAGES OF BRAVERY AWARD
Nominee: Dennis E. Haines
Member, VVA Chapter 391, Sonora, California
It is with great honor we submit the name of Dennis E. Haines for the "Images of Bravery Award, 2004". Dennis was eighteen, had finished high school and was working on an Associate degree in Architectural Engineering when he was drafted in October 1967. On the night of December 6, 1968, as an E-4, he was leading his squad toward a suspected VC-occupied village. Two AK-47 rounds struck and blew away the right side of his head, and he was quickly brought to the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh, where Drs. John Baldwin (a sponsor) and Floyd Robinson operated on his brain. After a stormy post-operative week, it was apparent he would live, and he followed the usual path to Japan, then on to Walter Reed, where he was retired in March 1969 with 100% disability. Further surgery to place a plate in his skull and two more years of intense rehabilitation followed, but despite this, Dennis has essentially no use of his left leg or arm, and stands only for important events with the aide of a locking steel brace. He is unable to drive even "a handicapped equipped" vehicle, so that all transportation must be public or from loving friends and family.
Coming home half the man he once was, he remembers being booed and cursed at the airport and shunned by some of those kids who had once been his friends. On April 5, 1969, between hospitalizations, Dennis married the girl to whom he had become engaged before leaving for Viet Nam. They purchased a house, in which he still lives, raised two sons, and the marriage lasted seventeen years. Over time, the situation became a growing burden and sadness for his wife. The experiences of his months in combat and lengthy rehabilitation had made him a different person than the one she had kissed goodbye in 1968. "I want Dennis back the way he was before leaving for Vietnam instead of the one who came home," she said. Seven lonely, independent years later, in 1995, he found his present wife, Barbara, "who never knew me differently than I am now." His sons are great kids, the married older boy has presented him a grandson and the younger is a junior at Penn State, majoring in psychology.
The VA was very helpful in 1970, by getting him into an entry-level job at the new Hershey Medical Center at Penn State. For ten years he supported his wife and two sons at this job, studying at night to get as much education as possible in the new field of "computer design". He discovered that the computer didn't care if he was paralyzed on the left side, and using his still intact left brain and skilled right hand, Dennis became extremely proficient at drafting, planning and space-organization. Armed with samples of his work, he approached the Medical Center's Engineering Department, won that executive position and became a pivotal force in designing the burgeoning new hospital complex. "This has been a challenging and continual learning process and now my position also incorporates coordinating renovation and construction projects from beginning to end."
In 1992, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, no doubt from the nearly twenty blood transfusions we gave him following his initial injury. The current chemotherapy regimen is difficult and often exhausting, but Dennis gets to work each day, and bears no bitterness to either the men who drafted him or those who shot him, forever changing his life. He could have come home, lay down and quit; instead, he chose to fight and wage what is obviously a life-long struggle to prevail against his disability and his memories. His contributions to family, community and to fellow veterans would be impressive for any individual, but to have accomplished all of this as a hemi-plegic, from a wheelchair, is unbelievable. He is exemplary of what constitutes true bravery: courage, persistence, loyalty, duty, honor, country and family. It is, indeed, our pleasure to introduce this great veteran from Chapter 391 to the selection committee.
Mr. Haines Activities following his Viet Nam Service include:
Sponsor's addendum: Dennis and I were re-united in 2002 by a chance meeting on a Viet Nam veterans' website. To be able to bond as surgeon and accomplished patient after 36 years has been emotionally uplifting and gratifying beyond description for both of us. (JNB)
Robert Law III, President VVA Chapter 391
N. Baldwin, MD FACS, Board Member Chapter 391
Contact: (209) 586-1127
Updated: May 7, 2004